With football season winding down, the NBA kicked off its annual slate of nationally televised Saturday games on ABC. There’s a ton of basketball that needs to take place between now and the end of the season, but thanks to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers, the bar for the best ABC Saturday game we’ll see this year was set extremely high.
The two teams played a thriller, with the Thunder walking into Philadelphia and stealing a 117-115 win out from under the Sixers’ noses. This was thanks to a huge afternoon from Paul George, as the MVP candidate came up gigantic in the game’s waning moments.
Before that, though, Philly fought back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit, making things close and eventually taking the lead with just under six minutes left. Things went back-and-forth from there, with the biggest stars on both teams — George and Russell Westbrook for Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons for Philadelphia — making plays all over the place.
In fact, despite a rough afternoon on the whole, Butler did everything he could to will the Sixers to a win. He came alive down the stretch, and after Embiid hit three free throws to tie the game at 113, Butler capitalized on a bad pass from Thunder guard Dennis Schröder to put Philadelphia ahead.
It was sensational defense from Simmons and Wilson Chandler, and Butler’s reading of the play to lead to the layup was masterful. Still, with just under seven seconds left, the Thunder got the ball with plenty of time to do something. Between his scorching hot performance and Westbrook fouling out, it was obvious George got the ball.
The funny thing about basketball, though, is that you sometimes know what’s coming and a dude is so good that it just does not matter. That’s exactly what happened here, as George got the ball, pulled up, and drilled a three while getting fouled by Butler.
It was the latest huge shot out of George, who builds on his reputation for being a big shot maker.
George went on to make the free throw, and after an awkward attempt from deep by Butler didn’t go in, the Thunder were able to walk off the floor with a huge win. On the afternoon, George scored 31 points on 8-for-19 shooting with six rebounds, five assists, and a pair of steals. Westbrook and Schröder both pitched in 21 points. For the losing side, Embiid’s immense 31-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist outing led the way, while J.J. Redick’s 22 points were of note, too. Simmons did a little bit of everything — 20 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists — while Butler went for 18 points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.